While waiting for the third race of the Formula 1 World Championship in Bahrain on Sunday, April 4, 2004, Maranello’s sales increased in a year still full of sporting and commercial successes, but the effect of the changes slowed down the race of profits. the Ferrari-Maserati group in 2003 has a consolidated turnover of 1.261 million euros, an operating result that is confirmed positive to 31.6 million, but down on the previous year (70.5), mainly due to investment in research and the negative impact of the weakness of the dollar that absorbed the improvement in the price mix obtained on Ferrari models. The pre-tax profit was EUR 25.9 million (EUR 41.7 million in 2002) and the net profit was EUR 1.7 million (EUR 21.6 million). Comments the president of Ferrari, Luca Montezemolo:
"It has been a difficult year, certainly not only for us who have the satisfaction of an increasing turnover, of great successes in sport and also in the markets. Despite the slowdown in the world economy, Ferrari has reached 4,238 registered cars and Maserati has been able to increase its market share at a time of strong general decline. The year 2004 started well, both for sales and racing, and the huge resources devoted to the development and expansion of the range, especially for Maserati, allow us to look confidently to the future, even if the strong devaluation of the dollar is felt on the profit side".
In the course of 2003, the resources devoted to investment and research and development (fully spent in the year) totalled 336.5 million, a sharp increase compared to 283.4 million in 2002. Considerable resources were also devoted to the development of the Ferrari range; among the new models, the Challenge Stradale and the 612 Scaglietti. The process of renewal of the production facilities in Maranello has led to the completion of both the new Product Development Centre and the new painting plant, one of the most advanced in the world. Both facilities will be fully operational from spring 2004. In 2003, 7,077 cars of the group were delivered to customers. Are substantially in line the deliveries of cars Ferrari, 4.238 against the 4.236 of the year precedence, while for Maserati exercise 2003 has been influenced by In 2003, 7,077 cars of the group were delivered to customers. Deliveries of Ferrari cars are substantially in line, 4,238 against the 4,236 of the previous year, while for Maserati the year 2003 was influenced by the negative trend of the reference segments of the coupe and spider models. Overall, the units sold to the final customer were 2,839, compared to 3,300 in 2002. As for Formula 1, fans are consoling Schumacher while in Germany there is the trial of Mercedes and Bmw. The English-German patient: this is how the popular newspaper of Cologne, Express, in a caustic piece of its Formula 1 commentator, Oliver Reuter, defines the start of McLaren-on Wednesday, March 24, 2004 Mercedes and Williams-Bmw in the Formula 1 World Championship. The German press reacts with a torment to the feelings of disbelief, disappointment, anger and envy at the slow start of the two teams, which in Germany have always been perceived out-of-court as Germans, because of their respective motorists, considered the true masters of steam. Until the eve of the Australian Grand Prix, held in Melbourne, the newspapers host articles where every Formula 1 expert in the world pronounces that Michael Schumacher is finished and Ferrari as well, and that the 2004 World Championship would be a duel between Mercedes and Bmw. However, now the German press is supporting Schumacher and Ferrari. The incitement to the cars of Maranello, however, is certainly not spontaneous. Bild dedicates almost a page to a singular mea culpa: a collage of the most offensive headlines published by the newspaper against Ferrari in the early years of the Schumacher era. From the Ferrari all kaputt of 22 February 1996, to the elegant Rottamate this cucumber of 10 July 1996. Alongside what would seem to be excuses to Maranello, there is the title that says a lot about the feelings of the newspaper and its readers:
"Schumacher made the red cucumber the best car in the world".
Therefore, the Bild concludes:
"Schumacher, Germany is proud of you".
Much less so is it of its automakers. The same newspaper admits:
"The world mocks the automobile nation Germany".
Mercedes and Bmw begin to leak the first signs of nervousness. In the shadow of the three-pointed star of Stuttgart, the Mercedes emblem, a feud would be underway that would lead to the fall of a first important head: that of the head of Formula 1 engines, Werner Laurenz. Bild announced her dismissal on her return from Malaysia. From the headquarters of Mercedes Motorsport comes the no comment of sports director Norbert Haug. Werner Laurenz, 51, was taken from Mercedes at the start of the 2003 season by rivals Bmw, where he had made the 10-cylinder 900 horsepower and 19.000 rpm. In his new job, however, he would immediately come into conflict with Mario Illien, the Swiss founder of Umor, a company now controlled by Mercedes that designs and manufactures engines for McLaren and just Illien would demand the dismissal of Laurenz. This is confirmed by the alleged victim of the plot:
"They fired me? I don’t know anything about it. But I know that Illien was already saying it around Malaysia".
And the rumors that Mercedes wants to buy all of McLaren are resume. At the same time, even in Munich, home of Bmw, bad moods increase, despite Montoya’s second place in Sepang. The announcement of the Colombian’s move to McLaren in 2005 did not benefit the environment and the war of nerves between him and his team-mate, Ralf Schumacher, broke out again. These, then, with rash and snooty statements on the non-renewal, annoyed Frank Williams and, since Ralf Schumacher is going in turn worse than expectations, the German Bmw, his great sponsor, seems to have decided to download it and take over the team. Changing the subject, but without losing the appeal to the controversy, the latest fashion now is Formula-Sheikh, the Arab countries discover racing but it is already controversial for the next Bahrain Grand Prix. In such a difficult and tormented period, sport is still able to be an element of entertainment and distraction, even in the areas most affected by war turbulence such as the area of the Arabian Peninsula. From football to offshore, from rallies to horse racing, from tennis to golf, there is a continuous proliferation of new events and curious initiatives. The wave of novelty that comes from the Middle East could not help but involve the motoring that is preparing to live two important events. Tuesday, March 30, 2004 in Dubai is presented the new Lola A1 Grand Prix, a single-seater with which you plan to organize a championship that will involve some countries of the Middle East, South Africa and probably part of Europe. A few days later, Sunday, April 4, 2004 will be the debut of the Formula 1 World Championship in Bahrain, in the new circuit of 150.000.000 dollars made in Sakhir, about twenty kilometers from the capital Manama.The Lola A1 series was commissioned by Sheikh Maktoum Hasher Maktoum to Maktoum who bought from Lola, the English race car factory, about thirty single-seaters on which were mounted engines of 3.5 liters V6 of about 450 horsepower produced, also in England, from Langford Performance. The car has already turned to Henthel, a small British circuit, driven by driver Ben Devil and by Sheikh Maktoum himself who is a member of the Dubai royal family. It seems that the organization is equipping illuminated tracks to play some races at night. Meanwhile, in the north, an hour’s flight away, still in the Arabian Peninsula, preparations are underway for the Bahrain Grand Prix. It seems that the track is very nice and challenging, with ample possibilities for overtaking. But, in this regard, some controversy has already erupted. Williams and Jean Alesi were invited to open the circuit.While the French driver drives an old single-seater that belonged to Fangio, the Anglo-German team sends a test team with a car dated and one of 2003, at the wheel of which he puts the test driver Marc Gene. So it is not a simple exhibition: the Spanish driver runs at a sustained pace about twenty laps and the technicians collect data, times and impressions on the use of tires. The other teams don’t like it: Ferrari doesn’t like it, and Ron Dennis also protests for McLaren, claiming that the rivals of Williams have an undoubted advantage. Patrick Head, head of the team running Montoya and Ralf Schumacher, minimizes:
"After half an hour of official rehearsals we will all be equal".
The episode has a further aftermath because the Scuderia Ferrari, given the opening of its market in China, asks to shoot in the new circuit of Shanghai. Someone interprets the initiative as a retaliation for what happened in Bahrain, but in fact the team of Maranello has come forward in non-suspicious periods. Discussions aside, McLaren test driver Alex Wurz explains that the new Sakhir circuit could be favorable to Ferrari.
"The track is dirty and dusty, the asphalt should go well with Bridgestone tires. In addition, the ambient temperature will not be as high as you might think: there will be 25-26 ºC as in Australia, where Schumacher and Barrichello dominated big".
In the meantime, we have a meeting with the entrepreneurs of the north-east: decisive the next four years. Ferrari president Luca Montezemolo wants to recover the spirit of the post-war period. The statistics are bitter but there are not only those.
"If we look at the figures we must be worried, but if we look at the desire for reaction we must be less worried".
The president of Ferrari, designated to lead the Confindustria for the next four years, meets the Schio Group of the Vicenza Industrial Association on the day of the announcement given by Istat of the decline in the turnover of the industry. Another negative figure in a gloomy picture of the economy for too long. Called to tell the team success of his Ferrari, the president also talks about the many companies that work with the same passion. And of the many entrepreneurs seen in recent months in every part of Italy that, although restless, show a willingness to relaunch, dynamism, desire to undertake and risk. Italy needs a shot at recovering - says Montezemolo - the spirit and values of the post-war period. As in the years following the world war, he must have courage and roll up his sleeves. Looking ahead:
"In difficult times we always knew how to react: our grandparents taught us this, our fathers taught us this".
Despite the negative data, we can rediscover the pride of being Italian and the pride of Italian companies, as Massimo Calearo, president of the industrialists of Vicenza, says.
"When I heard the Italian anthem after the Ferrari victory in Malaysia last Sunday I still got goosebumps".
The meeting of Thursday, March 25, 2004 seems a new opportunity to testify that there is an Italy that does not accept industrial backwardness. So much so that in Schio there are entrepreneurs from all over the North East determined to transmit their impetus for the recovery of the economy. Entrepreneurs, therefore, seek in themselves the strength to get out of the long dark period. Says Montezemolo:
"We have only one chance: to express exceptional products; therefore to be exceptional entrepreneurs".
And scrutinizing the next four years, which he defines as decisive, the president of Ferrari points out:
"The results will largely depend on us".
This means, for Confindustria, developing the design capacity, and in general play the real bet represented by the growth of small business. Here is the number one theme for the economy: although it is true that small is beautiful, this is no longer enough. The role of family capitalism is important, provided that it does not constitute a slowdown in growth. Notes the president of Ferrari:
"Often the third generations have lived comfortably, taking their positions for granted, while it takes character and desire to work".
Growth is therefore the imperative, starting from the exceptional Italian productive fabric characterized by small businesses. With a catchphrase for the next four years: innovation, innovation, innovation. A word that Montezemolo defines is transversal because it goes beyond the search and it regards: organization, delegation, motivations, ties with the suppliers, relationships with the customers, marketing, net of sale. Innovation is a challenge for the company but also for the entire country. In an Italy that has never divided as it is divided on everything, entrepreneurs must recover the culture of dialogue. They can be united, loyal, without geographical divisions: it is unthinkable that the Veneto or the South consider themselves different from the rest of Italy. Dialogue with institutions and trade unions must be fostered. Then you have to be careful not to wage war on the banks with which you have to work to build development. Montezemolo fears a return to a climate of justice, with banks blamed for everything. Such a climate can lead to credit closure, with serious consequences especially for small businesses. In the Italian team, therefore, we must respect ourselves more, to remedy the bitter figures of Istat. Returning to the main topic, the Formula 1 World Championship, Sunday, April 4, 2004 at 1:30 p.m. will be held for the first time in the Middle East. The Israelis are not allowed visas, and there are major security measures in place. In Bahrain, however, the real challenge is the desert: alarm, therefore, for the sand on the track that could damage the engines. Formula 1 flies for the first time in the Middle East, attracted by dollars more than by the passion for the engines of the 650.000 inhabitants of Bahrain. And so some compromises are accepted: it is agreed that a world sports event will be hosted by a country that refuses the entry visa to the citizens of a foreign State (Israel) and you have the renunciation of the rituals of champagne and girls cleavage and miniskirt on the grill out of respect for the Islamic religion. The Grand Prix is held on a brand new circuit (the organizers had even asked for the cancellation of the race because they feared not to finish the work in time), surrounded by the desert and the army. The track has fifteen corners and an impressive 1090-metre straight that promises many overtakings, the rarest and most sought-after ingredient in racing.
After the Malaysian weekend, the high temperatures are no longer scary. Ferrari passed the test with all four engines lined up (the two Ferraris plus the Saubers), while Bmw, Mercedes and Honda suffered a break each and ran for repairs. The new unknown is the sand that surrounds the plant and that the wind pushes on the asphalt and in the air intakes of the single-seaters: a dust so fine that a traditional filter in the engine would have the effect of a sieve. By the way, if a grain of sand passes, the engine stops. If it happens during practice or qualifying, it is replaced at the price of ten positions in the starting line-up. If it occurs in the race, goodbye Bahrain. The organizers will try to prevent an epidemic of breakage by smearing a special resin on the sand around the circuit and praying that no wind storms will strike the area. Engineers have studied sophisticated systems to purify the air that makes their ten cylinders breathe. As usual, the exam on the track will promote those who have worked better. No one knows what the asphalt looks like, how long the tires will last, the time you lose when the tank is full, the duration of a pit stop, including the pit lane pass. Simulators are at work, but unlike other circuits they have little data to process. It is then up to the strategists, based on the information gathered in the free practice, to decide the mix and the number of supplies in the race. In Australia and Malaysia the option of three stops prevailed: the first after a few laps, the second and the third longest. This solution allows you to qualify well and start with little gasoline. Ferrari applied it in an extreme way, obtaining two pole positions and as many victories with Michael Schumacher. A last innovation concerns the format of the most boring qualifying in the history of Formula 1. No revolution, for charity: the first session will be anticipated from now on at 1:00 p.m.; the second will not begin immediately after, but at 2:00 p.m. precisely. Even the free practice that will take place during the morning of Saturday, April 3, 2004 starts 60 minutes ahead of schedule. On Sunday, April 4, 2004, the competition began at 3:30 p.m. Ferrari defends the advantage accumulated from one unleashed Schumacher and is presented as a favorite, except for complications. The climate is warm, it’s true, but more like the 25-30 C of Australia (where Ferraris ran alone) than the 36 °C of Malaysia (where the German driver had to offer the best of the repertoire).
Only certainty: it won’t rain. The former Formula 1 driver, the Frenchman Jean Alesi, promotes the Bahrain Grand Prix: everyone will like the track of the sheiks. The new jewel of world motoring shines under the rays of the sun. A historic event, the first race held in the Middle East region. The system, from the aesthetic point of view is extraordinary: cost - as mentioned - 150.000.000 dollars, was designed by the German architect Hermann TiIke, the same who designed the Malaysian circuit. But, if for the previous project the designer was inspired by stands and towers with palms, here, in the island of the Persian Gulf a couple of tens of kilometers from the capital Manama, he wanted to remember the Khaima, the desert tents. A modern and luxurious complex, with a covered grandstand with 10.000 seats in the shade. The track (there are five, but will be used the longest, of 5.411 meters) has two long straight and 12 corners, 5 left and 7 right. It is not perfectly flat, there are slight slopes. According to computer calculations, cars should get averages of 210 km/h, with times of just over 1'30"0 per lap. The track has already been seen by Jenson Button (the English driver of BAR who finished third in Malaysia), by Marc Gene, Williams test driver (a 25-lap test that aroused the discontent of the other teams) and by Jean Alesi, as Mercedes ambassador. The French driver of Sicilian origin, 40 years old in June, after leaving Formula 1 is engaged in DTM, the German super-touring championship, in which he hopes to fight for the title. His impressions of the Bahrain circuit are positive.
"It’s a very good lead. The track is wide, the design designed to deal with different problems, with hard braking, fast straightforwards and curves of different radius. The escape spaces are impressive so it should also be very safe. But I did it with an old Mercedes W196 that won two World Championships with Juan Manuel Fangio in 1954 and 1955. Then I also did some laps with a very fast coupe. Obviously the Formula 1 cars are something else, but everyone will like it. You can overtake at the end of the two straights, but there are at least two or three other points where someone might try to pass".
However, there is talk of possible inconveniences that could arise during the race weekend.
"The circuit is located in a semi-desert area, in the middle of the dunes. If it rises a bit of wind there will be sand on the track. So problems for the engines and adhesion. The teams are prepared: special filters will be applied in the air intake systems. It is clear that if a sandstorm should erupt, the race will not be disputed but fingers crossed. Then there are all the unknowns that come from running on a new track. It will be an exciting and uncertain baptism. The heat should not be a problem, with temperatures perhaps lower than those of Malaysia".
Still the favorite Ferrari?
"If we look at the results of Melbourne and Sepang, I would say yes. But just because you go a little 'in the dark, without certain data on the cars is on the tires, I would not exclude surprises. In addition, I believe that the rivals of Maranello have worked like madmen to recover the detachments. Williams in particular, but also attention to Renault and BAR and, why not, also to McLaren Mercedes. As always, tires will have a determining role. Michelin or Bridgestone? We will see, Friday the first responses".
Waiting for the Bahrain Grand Prix, presented, wanted and paid for by the sheiks, the Nations Championship was born in Dubai. A driver by nation and cars all equal without electronics: it is the world cup of motoring, according to the Arabs, and will be called A1 Grand Prix. This will take place in the Middle East, East and Australia.
"Nothing to do with Formula 1, which is essentially a competition between manufacturers".
Sheikh Maktoum Al Maktoum. The idea is his, as well as the investments. The sheik bought thirty cars produced by the English Lola, he demanded that they had no electronic aids to driving («otherwise the drivers become lazy») and now offers them in franchising. Maktoum is a member of the ruling family in the Emirate of Dubai and has no economic problems. He strongly wanted this project and to present it he took advantage of the spotlight on Ferrari SC, which Sunday, April 4, 2004 runs for the first time in nearby Bahrain, and the showcase of its pharaonic hotels.
"I would be crazy if I competed with Formula 1. We will be complementary starting from the calendar: we will start in September and finish in March. We will be ready in 2005".
The philosophy changes: the tests, the developments, the pit stops and everything in Formula 1 make the costs rise and the gap between rich and poor teams increases. In the A1, cars, engines, transport and infrastructure are made available by the sheik. The teams, one at most per country, can be opened in franchising as the chains of large stores. The expected price is between 2.000.000 and 80.000.000 euros, which will be recovered through advertising and a share of television rights. With a constraint: in addition to the driver, the sponsors must also be of the same nationality of the team. According to the organizers, negotiations are well under way to form twenty-three national teams (including Italy). The regulation, which will be supervised by the International Automobile Federation, provides for a maximum of thirty-three.
"Let’s take two recent examples. In Colombia and Spain recently there was no particular interest in Formula 1. Thanks to Montoya and Alonso now there is great enthusiasm. We want to fuel the same enthusiasm in countries that are not represented in Formula 1, creating our champions".
There are many excluded today, from China to India, from Africa to Russia to the Middle East; huge markets for rich sponsors. At least in projects. But Maktoum seems to have no doubts;
"I am not a naive Abdullah of the desert. I have invested to earn and I am convinced that I can".
Another goal is the show. Starting from the assumption that Michael Schumacher is a great champion but if he drove a Minardi he would never win, the regulation of the A1 assigns the same car to all: a single-seater produced by Lola with a 3500 cc 6 cylinder engine and 485 hp (the best engines of Formula 1 cars reach 900 horsepower). Traction and starting controls are abolished, so that it will be easier to make mistakes and, consequently, to attempt overtaking. Each event will last three days: free practice on Friday, free practice and qualifying on Saturday, two races on Sunday: a 15-20 minute sprint race that will determine the starting grid of the main race, which will last between forty and fifty minutes. All complementary events were abolished. Niki Lauda, who spoke at the presentation together with Juan Pablo Montoya and Rubens Barrichello, said:
"The idea is good, but there is still a lot to work on".
Rubens Barrichello also expresses the same opinion:
"Sounds like a nice idea".
The Brazilian adds, but he already has the attention paid to the Bahrain Grand Prix.
"I’m curious to see this new circuit of Bahrain. When will I beat Schumacher? Maybe already this Sunday".
in Bahrain sand and safety are the unknowns: there are concerns about the first Middle East Grand Prix:
"I don’t like it".
Jarno Trulli, one of the first to test the new Bahrain circuit, comments with disappointment. The Italian jump performs a tour with a service car at a tourist pace, just to get an idea of how the route is made.
"There are three corners to tackle in the first and two in the second. Great braking and restarts almost stationary, talent is not necessary. It is the fast corners that make the difference. Too bad, because it is a beautiful plant, the infrastructure is exceptional and there are huge pits".
The project is by German Hermann Tilke, who has already signed the track in Sepang, Malaysia, and is considered a magician. The circuit is reached along three-lane roads that cut through a desert strewn with bushes, some palm trees and small oil wells. Around the plant, there are only rock and sand, the dreaded sand that the wind lifts and transports on the asphalt. Safety is one of the unknowns: Bahrain is a Muslim country, while Formula 1 is one of the symbols of the rich and joyful West. The Minister of Defence has been drastic: nothing bad can happen, neither an act of hooliganism nor a terrorist attack. At every intersection are stationed trucks of the police and the army, in the shadow of the gigantography of the royal family: King Hamad, King Hamad with his son Prince Sheikh Salman, King Hamad with his uncle Prime Minister Sheikh Khalifa, King Hamad with all the parentado. At the entrance, the impression is still that of a construction site. Three weeks before the weekend of the Bahrain Grand Prix, the organizers asked patron Bernie Ecclestone to postpone the first Formula 1 event hosted by a Middle Eastern country. Request rejected. Therefore, Friday, April 2, 2004 started free practice, Saturday, April 3, 2004 the qualifying, and Sunday, April 4, 2004 the race, as scheduled. The architecture of the tower that stands out within the circuit and of all the buildings is inspired by the khaima, the desert tents. Along the main straight is a 10.000-seat grandstand. Another 30.000 seats have been created in other strategic points where, the designers guarantee, you will see several overtaking
"A new race still has its charm, and a reliable judgment will be possible only after free practice. I foresee a different weekend. We will learn more than usual".
Still explains the Italian driver Jarno Trulli. His Renault is almost identical to the one seen in Malaysia apart from the air filter, which has the task of retaining dust and sand in abnormal quantities. The main teams are waiting for the return to Europe (Sunday, April 25, 2004, in Imola, San Marino Grand Prix) to test and introduce substantial innovations. Until then the balances are those seen in the first two races of the year.
"Be careful, though. No one is able to make a prediction on a Grand Prix without having ground a few kilometers".
But is it possible to beat Ferrari?
"Absolutely not. She will miss a few races, but she currently has a huge lead. This was seen in Malaysia, where she was not favored by temperature. We, Williams and Bar have good cars, however we are not yet able to win the World Championship".
Paradoxically, in the first Bahrain Grand Prix the Italian débutants Giorgio Pantano (Jordan) and Gianmaria Bruni (Minardi) are advantaged, this time they do not know the track like their more experienced colleagues. Giorgio Pantano goes on a walking tour, to train and acclimatize to the 30-33 °C of Bahrain.
"I liked the track. I have only one fear: around you can see the uniform light of the desert. Colored elements are missing that would be useful as a reference point. Patience, it will mean that we will pay close attention to the signals".
The Bahrain Grand Prix is the #716 of the already long history of Formula 1, which started on Saturday, May 13, 1950, which has now come until Sunday, April 4, 2004. That of the Arab Emirate is the sixty-second circuit in which cars compete in the World Championship, in twenty-one different countries. The record of participation, divided by nations, belongs to the United States, in which the races have so far been largely itinerant, with nine tracks used. Italy, for example, has only two: Monza and Imola. Going to see who has imposed himself several times in a track on which he raced for the first time, we will see that Ferrari has achieved twelve successes, like the now gone Lotus, against the seven of Williams and the six of McLaren. Among the drivers emerged authentic champions like Stirling Moss with five affirmations, Alberto Ascari and Juan Manuel Fangio at four. Strangely, however, Michael Schumacher only twice won for the first time on the new circuit. He succeeded Aida, in Japan, at the Pacific Grand Prix in 1994, with Benetton, and Indianapolis in 2000, driving Ferrari. The German driver could also have won in Malaysia in 1999 but, after a terrible injury at Silverstone, he let his teammate Eddie Irvine win, who at that time was in the running for the world title. But among the memorable successes at the debut on a new track, we must certainly count the one obtained by Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal, Canada, back in 1978. On a very cold day in October, while falling a few drops of rain at times almost transformed into sleet, the Canadian driver enthused his fans and those of Ferrari with a race made of courage and balance. Soon we will know who has had the merit of inaugurating the Bahrain Grand Prix, the first in history in the Middle East. The challenge has just begun. Meanwhile, in Italy, inside the Ferrari Gallery in Maranello is presented an exhibition with precious relics, and among these there is also the first Ferrari by Giovanni Agnelli.
The Ferrari Gallery is constantly renewed. In addition to the permanent exhibition of historical pieces and exhibitions that tell the 2+2 and the engines of Formula 1, from 13 March 2004 also hosts a group of Ferrari cars dressed by the Body Touring Superleggera of Milan, one of the most prestigious in the sector founded in 1926 by the lawyer Gaetano Ponzoni and the engineer Febee Bianchi Anderloni. Among the customers there was also Enzo Ferrari, who made the Alfa Romeo of his Scuderia Ferrari, created in 1929.It is logical that the Modena manufacturer, deciding to start his own business, turned to Touring to ensure the best aesthetic result, while he provided the mechanics of the highest level. The first of the Ferraris on display is not yet a real Ferrari, but the Auto Avio Costruzioni Tipo 815 spider built in 1940, when Enzo Ferrari could not use his name as a brand of cars because of the pact made by leaving Alfa Romeo in 1939. A legendary car, the Tipo 815, with a short and adventurous life, built in a few months and in just two examples to participate in the last Mille Miglia before the war. Designed by engineer Alberto Massimino, it was equipped with a remarkable 8-cylinder engine in line with 1500 cc. Of the two models with spider bodywork, and driven by Alberto Ascari and Marquis Lotario Rangoni Machiavelli, only one was saved (that of Ascari) and is therefore an heirloom of extraordinary historical interest. Even the second piece on display is in many ways exceptional. It is the 166 Inter model of 1948 with a two-liter V12 engine and body called Aerlux because the roof is transparent: it is the first Ferrari with 4 seats or, as we said then, 2+2 whose seats are padded with the new Pirelli foam material. It was presented at the Turin Motor Show with the twin car, the boat 166 MM with a two-liter V12 engine.
Of this second model spider, nicknamed barchetta by the press of the time, because it reminded the shape of the bateaux of the cars of the twenties, a prestigious specimen is on display, the one purchased in 1949 by Giovanni Agnelli (was for the lawyer the first of a series of cars produced in Maranello). Characteristic finish in two colors, dark blue and pine green. Today it is owned by the Belgian Jacques Swaters, one of the major collectors of Ferrari, who was a dealer for over forty years. Also of 1949 and with the same chassis type 168 MM is also a berlinetta type Le Mans. It should be remembered that with a boat type 166 MM the legendary Luigi Chinetti won in 1949 the resounding victory in the prestigious French race. He drove for twenty-three hours, with short intervals left to his companion Lord Selsdon. The series is completed by a Berlinetta type 166 Inter of 1950, also with a V 12 two-litre engine, because the 166 engine (in addition to being the first used for Ferraris sold to the public) is also the one that gave rise to a wide range of different models, including Formula 2 and Formula 1 cars. Back in Bahrain, Schumacher promises that in five laps he will understand how to drive on this new circuit. The German Ferrari driver is enthusiastic about the track built in the middle of the Bahrain desert.
"It’s impressive, the first corner seems great for overtaking".
And Bernie Ecclestone, pleased, adds:
"They built the art of Formula 1".
Prince Sheikh Salman, son of King Hamad, smiles as he admits:
"Nobody knew us, nobody even knew where Bahrain was. Now you are all here, talking about us".
The Sheikh Prince visits the plant, and asks questions to journalists.
"Do you like the circuit? What about our country?"
He asks after having specified to love and visit every year Italy, from Cortina to Capri.
"What about the circuit? Did they let you through at the airport?"
All except the Israelis, who are not allowed in the national territory, one of the three taboos of Bahrain. Another are the spirits, which are served by most public venues (but on Sunday on stage you will toast with the Warrd, a cocktail made from local fruit, rose water and carbon dioxide for the foam effect); the third is easy sex. Introducing Bahrain was the initial goal. Attracting Western money to you before the oil supply runs out is the next step. Bahrain is a candidate for the Middle East’s tax haven role. To foreign investors he promises absolute liberalism, zero taxes, no control over trade, stability of the money guaranteed by the dollar, the derisory price of labor (5 euros per day) and gasoline (0.25 euros per liter). The market that is tempting is not that of the 650.000 residents. The market is Saudi Arabia, which has 100.000.000 inhabitants and billions of dollars to spend. From the capital Manama to the border pass twenty-five kilometers of highway, the King Fahad Causeway.
"The Middle East is not only Iraq and Palestine. Formula 1 in Bahrain is a hope for this area of the world".
The security challenge is decisive. The organizers are sure to win it and ensure the presence on Sunday of King Juan Carlos of Spain, sovereign symbol of a state, the Spanish, victim of terrorism of Islamic extremist matrix. Then are announced the presence of Princes Albert of Monaco and Philip of Liechtenstein (representatives of two tax havens), six prime ministers of the Gulf countries and King Abdullah II of Jordan, leader of the moderates of the Arab world.
"I am quiet. I received a fantastic and warm welcome everywhere".
Michael Schumacher says, returning to the race climate. Barrichello also assures that after five laps he will have a clear idea of the track.
"There is a stretch that resembles the Beckett curve of Silverstone".
The Brazilian driver adds after a walk-by reconnaissance. Only Scuderia Ferrari’s technical director, Ross Brawn, invites caution:
"The tyres are a bet and it is not necessarily that Ferrari wins it".
At the BAR it was enough to return to the podium after three years of abstinence to get into trouble. Jenson Button’s third place in Malaysia in fact caused a series of problems within the team led by David Richards. In recent days the British newspapers reveal that the team, in which Honda is involved not only for the supply of the engine, will prepare a modified and improved car ahead of the next San Marino Grand Prix, which will be held in Imola (scheduled for Sunday, April 25, 2004). The indiscretions, detailed and precise, infuriate the leaders of the team.
"It’s not possible, surely voices are used from the inside. There are people who talk too much. Now we will be forced to stop everyone from telling us what is going on at the BAR, as many other teams have done. This is about trade secrets, serious damage".
Formula 1, after the various stories of espionage, must also deal with people who can not resist the temptation to tell something special, maybe just to stand out, create influential friendships. Beyond all consideration, however, it is certain that BAR aims to fit firmly among the top teams and become the revelation of 2004, struggling in every race for the podium with Ferrari, Williams, Renault, McLaren and Jaguar. And maybe even aim for the victory of the World Championship. Meanwhile, at the conference in Milan, discreet presence of the president-designate: Luca Montezemolo observes and listens. The blue curtain is shifting. The president of Ferrari hints to enter the great pavilion of the Fiera di Milano where the conference of Confindustria focused on the challenge of development has just begun, he looks at the crowd of entrepreneurs and decides to go to the front row. He moves with his head down so as not to disturb the ongoing discussion. Montezemolo makes his entrance without disturbing; on a large screen his image is projected only for a moment and almost fails to be noticed. Moreover, he will be president of the Confindustria in less than two months: for now he is designated to this post, held by Antonio D'Amato until the assembly of 26 May 2004, called to elect his successor. In Milan, therefore, Luca Montezemolo is present to carry out an act of attention towards D'Amato and towards the whole of Confindustria, which called him to the guide. No statements: not even for his Ferrari. The settlement is still far away. In short, a gesture of courtesy, but also a contact with the association: a way to continue listening to ideas and moods as he himself explained during the meetings throughout Italy in the last three months. Heading to the assigned seat, next to D'Amato and near the mayor Gabriele Albertini, Montezemolo greets one after the other entrepreneurs and guests sitting in the first row, remaining then firm for the whole session.
In the end, unnecessarily chased by journalists in search of some of his evaluations, the president of Ferrari, Luca Montezemolo, exchanges only a few jokes in private with the few participants at the conference who manage to bring him closer. Montezemolo arrived at the Fiera di Milano With the president of telecom, Marco Tronchetti Provera. The two reach the pavilion together, arriving in the same car (but Tronchetti passes the blue curtain a few seconds before him). Coming from Maranello, Luca Montezemolo is a guest at Tronchetti’s lunch in his house. An opportunity to reason, without prying ears, on current issues and therefore also on future prospects. At the end of the lunch Luca Montezemolo and Marco Tronchetti Provera are joined by the former president of Confindustria Vittorio Merloni.The latter will leave for Rome to hold a scheduled meeting at Assonime, the association of public limited companies of which he is president. Tronchetti and Montezemolo instead head towards the Fair. On the closing day of the conference, both will not be in Milan. The president-designate does not yet have a role. D'Amato speaks instead, of course, and he is therefore about to close his presidency. Friday, April 2, 2004 Rubens Barrichello's Ferrari dominates the first day of practice. In Bahrain, however, it rains sand and punctures the tires. The dust brought by the wind puts many drivers in crisis as they skid and end up spinning. Unusual record of three punctures for Michelin. The first lap is Timo Glock's turn, but eyes this time are more on the track than on the drivers. The first act of the Bahrain Grand Prix, the debut of Formula 1 in the Middle East, is beginning, the unknown of a track in the middle of the desert, fifteen corners to decipher, the fear of sand that makes you swerve and could get into the engine, 31 °C in the air and 51 °C on the asphalt. German driver Timo Glock calmly runs the 5417 meters and returns to the pits. Despite himself, he enters the history of this circuit. As does Rubens Barrichello, who has some more merit: the Brazilian is the fastest of the free practice day, thanks to a time of 1'31"450, at 213.244 km/h average speed. Juan Pablo Montoya is narrowly mocked. Before getting to the best time, almost all the drivers slip on the dust brought by the wind, and Ralf Schumacher inaugurates the series of spins. Juan Pablo Montoya follows, Michael Schumacher's turn. The cars end up in the convenient escape routes, which, however, are dirtier even than the track, and re-enter as if nothing had happened.
"In addition to sand, there were stones".
Complains Michael Schumacher, however pleased with the new facility. Three Michelin tires blow. BAR test driver Anthony Davidson, Fernando Alonso (Renault) and Davide Coulthard (McLaren) return to the pits scraping the rim. Michelin engineers absolve the circuit placed in the desert and report that the drainage system on a curb is to blame, which came loose and punctured the tires. Why the Bridgestones resisted Pierre Dupasquier, Michelin's racing boss, answers:
"It's a matter of statistics. We supply more cars".
The fear is that the engines will also be damaged by the sand. The only one to stop amid a cloud of white smoke is Kimi Raikkonen at the start of the second session. It is the third Mercedes powerplant to break down in three Grands Prix (and always on the Finnish driver's single-seater). The Anglo-German team struggles to hide some nervousness. And David Coulthard admits:
"Tires or no tires, I don't see what would have changed today".
Ron Dennis, team principal of the McLaren-Mercedes team, adds:
"A disastrous day for both drivers".
Norbert Haug, head of Mercedes Motorsport, is more analytical:
"A gasoline leak caused a fire in the air filter. The damage to the engine is serious and we will have to replace it".
However qualifying goes, Kimi Raikkonen will be relegated ten positions. The Finnish driver's comment is laconic:
"It's not going this year. I have very little luck. Racing is like that".
It goes better for Jarno Trulli, who is stopped by a power system failure. The regulations allow mechanics to intervene without penalty for the driver and the team. In the lead is still Scuderia Ferrari. Rubens Barrichello and Michael Schumacher (in practice on Friday, April 2, he is fourth) give the impression that they have it all figured out before the others. In the first session they trim eight tenths or more off the competition, in the next they encounter some resistance, but the impression is that, having found the right set-ups, they are thinking about saving the engine for the qualifying sessions to be held on Saturday, April 3, 2004, and the race on Sunday, April 4, 2004. The German driver praises the characteristics of the circuit, and tells:
"The designer approached me. I asked him to design fast corners that would favor overtaking".
Are these corners there?
"Not many, but in at least a couple of places, at the end of the finishing straight and Turn 4, I think you will be able to overtake".
Once again, the reference opponent is Juan Pablo Montoya.
"It's a nice circuit, which requires a lot of physical effort. Ferrari? We've come close. And I wouldn't underestimate McLaren and BAR".
About BAR: the team that once belonged to Jacques Villeneuve continues to surprise. During the practice of Friday, April 2, 2004 it was even the test driver Antony Davidson to score the third best time: 1'31"488, reaching 0.038 seconds from Rubens Barrichello, obviously with little petrol and new tires. Also Christian Klien (Jaguar), fifth. But the real exam is Saturday, April 3, 2004. Meanwhile, Rubens Barrichello admits:
"It’s a tough circuit".
The Brazilian was the fastest in the second practice session, and wants to take pole position.
"Slippery asphalt, if you miss trajectory is trouble".
After the rehearsal, Rubens Barrichello wears shorts and has the appearance of one who has just come out of the shower, fresh and fragrant. It doesn’t look very hot. The Brazilian driver beat Juan Pablo Montoya for 0.001 seconds on the first day of practice, just enough to score the best time on the day of the official opening of the new Bahrain circuit. For Barrichello, a chronometric result far better than the computer simulations predicted. Evidently it takes a Ferrari and a Brazilian driver to discredit the electronic brains. So, Rubens Barrichello is also waiting to take pole position, denying who thinks he is not capable. On the eve many drivers judge the Sakhir track very easily. Is it true?
"I would say no. This is a tough circuit. Challenging. Also because, being still very dusty asphalt, there is only one trajectory to follow. If you set it wrong, it takes two or three corners to clean the tires. And if you’re not careful, you go out. Like many people. After my walk down the track on Thursday, I thought there was a better grip. Instead you slide, not so much for the dirt, as for the asphalt is new".
The Ferrari F2004, however, seems to have adapted well.
"Very good. It is a car that has among its qualities to behave in a neutral way on every type of track. But we still have a lot of work to do, because we don’t have enough data. Let’s say the beginning is promising. For the car, the trim, the tires and the engine".
The opponents, however, are quite close.
"Maybe even more than we expected. But it is quite normal that the margins become shorter when you race in a new circuit, which nobody knows. And then it depends on how the times were obtained, the strategies adopted. However, we must admit that someone is closer than he was in the race in Malaysia".
Williams in particular.
"Williams and also the BAR. And the Jaguar and the Renault could come out. McLaren? Honestly I haven’t seen it".
There have been some punctures. Fairly rare problems in Formula 1 in recent years.
"I don’t know if it was a coincidence. It must be said that in the concrete escape routes there may also be pointed pebbles that create trouble. Fortunately we did not have any problems with the tires, indeed we are satisfied. We hope it will continue in the same way".
Some of the drivers who only participate in Friday practice for the teams that can field a third car went very strong: Anthony Davidson third with the BAR and Ricardo Zonta seventh with the Toyota.
"In the meantime, they are two drivers that perhaps deserve not only to be test drivers, but to run full time. And then in this case they had an advantage, being able to turn without having to think about saving the engine. This also favors the same teams that can test the tyres thoroughly with a series of ten to fifteen consecutive laps. Ferrari, however, has a good package to put on track".
Apparently, Michael Schumacher was a little slower.
"Don’t judge the result. Michael got the best time in all three areas of the track. He has not yet managed to put them together, but never underestimate him, he is always very fast".
Speaking of speed: this Formula 1 keeps churning out record times, isn’t it dangerous?
"I don’t think so. However, if someone asked me if I wanted to go slower, I would answer no".
Would you be surprised to take pole position?
"Why should I be surprised? No, I want this pole".
Even Michael Schumacher proves that he belongs to mankind from time to time: when he enters the pits during a quiet free practice session and forgets for a moment to press the button on the steering wheel that operates the speed limiter. The speed camera of Formula 1 is relentless: it detects 74.3 km/h instead of 60 km/h, equal to 3000 € fine. Details aside, there’s still no match. Michael Schumacher is a driver for all seasons: the Australian spring, the suffocating heat of Malaysia, now the dry heat of the Bahrain desert, nothing slows him down. Saturday, April 3, 2004, in fact, the German driver won the third consecutive pole position out of three, the number 58 in his career.The only record that seemed destined to resist him, the 65 of Ayrton Senna, could collapse within the year. The symbiosis between driver and car is perfect. The Ferrari F2004 represents a brilliant mix of chassis, engine and tires that seems to adapt to any circuit and obeys docile to the controls and adjustments of the reigning World Champion and his teammate, Rubens Barrichello, who instead gets the second time. Since their debut in pairs in 2000, the two Scuderia Ferrari drivers have monopolised the front row fifteen times. Ferrari, in its history in Formula 1, has succeeded in forty-four Grands Prix and for 169 times has placed a single-seater in pole position. However, during free practice in the morning, the two cars of Maranello appeared in difficulty. However, the Williams seemed competitive, and they still surprised the two British cars of the BAR team, especially with Jenson Button, while Michael Schumacher skidded on some sand residue on the track. But in qualifying only the two Ferraris confirm the times obtained in practice. Forced to embark on the gasoline with which Sunday, April 4, 2004 will begin the Bahrain Grand Prix, all opponents drop the pace.In the second row finish the two Williams-Bmw of Juan Pablo Montoya and Ralf Schumacher, in this order, who mount a new rear wing, while in the third row the two BAR-Honda of Takuma Sato and Jenson Button. Juan Pablo Montoya winks, and declares:
"The first corner is interesting, we will see what Rubens will do, since he starts on the dirty side of the track".
And the Brazilian driver adds:
"I’ll fight with Michael or anyone else in the lead".
The Italian drivers' record is a bit mediocre: Jarno Trulli is seventh, and he is convinced that more could not be done (Fernando Alonso tries to do more and mistakes everything, as in the previous Malaysian Grand Prix, raced at Sepang). It seems that Renault is particularly difficult to drive this year. Giancarlo Fisichella finished 0.8 seconds to his team-mate, the Brazilian driver Felipe Massa, but he is still eleventh. Giorgio Pantano (Jordan) is fine Friday, April 2, 2004, then - he says - the car gets worse: he has the sixteenth time, but he gains a position because his teammate Nick Heidfeld breaks the engine on the first day of practice. Gianmaria Bruni starts from the seventeenth position: given the means at his disposal, the Minardi, it is already a good result.All the more so as he will again have the satisfaction of placing himself in front of one of the aspiring heirs of Michael Schumacher: in Malaysia it is Fernando Alonso, in Bahrain it is Kimi Raikkonen, who renounces his attempt to qualify and is relegated to the back of the grid. On the Sakhir circuit the two Williams will start behind the Ferraris. However, Michael Schumacher admits:
"I fear surprises. Here is everything to discover Beautiful track, but it is easy to go wrong. In a couple of points you can get out of the trajectory to overtake, in other parts it would be dangerous because there is still sand. We will be very busy physically".
In the race, the German Ferrari driver will start escorted by the trusty Rubens Barrichello, but hunted by the two Williams-Bmw. Three pole positions and two wins: is this the best year of Michael Schumacher’s career?
"Driving is easy, yes. But let’s not forget the merits of the engineers. With the F2004 it is easier to work and get to the limit. Compared to last season I can be more consistent".
Why did the German driver duel with Montoya during free practice? Michael Schumacher Ride, then jokes:
"We simulated the race conditions".
The qualifying lap, huh?
"Far from perfect, yet it was enough to get the best time. I made a couple of mistakes in the initial part, then I recovered at the end".
Michael Schumacher means he can go even faster?
"Yes, but the same goes for the others. It is a challenging circuit, which requires you to stay in the right trajectories to avoid dirt. It is difficult to reach the limit".
In pre-qualifying, Ferrari was not exceptional.
"The track was dirty. It happened also last year: those who go out first are scavengers".
Is the front row of the Scuderia Ferrari a guarantee of victory?
"Don’t believe it. It’s a long race and it’s the first time we’ve had a Grand Prix here. Let’s say that our placement allows us to face the race without compromise".
Are the two Williams in the second row scary?
"They were also close in Malaysia. Victory is a bargain between us and them: nice challenge, fought".
Bridgestone get the right tires again?
"We hope so. In Malaysia they went well, here in Bahrain so far they have satisfied us".
The concerns of the eve are the heat and the sand: at this point Michael Schumacher believes that the alarm has passed?
"We found a circuit very well equipped, given that there was little time to build it, and challenging from a technical point of view, a feature that pleases us drivers: we do not like the easy work. I hope that at its debut in the Middle East Formula 1 will offer a beautiful spectacle to the public of Bahrain".
Fifty-eight pole position, including forty-eight at the wheel of Ferrari, against the sixty-five of Ayrton Senna: chasing this last record stimulates the German driver?
"No, records don’t help me to drive better and drive faster. If I can beat them well, they are not my goal".
Is the McLaren-Mercedes crisis surprising?
"It’s a surprise for many. When things start to go wrong, it doesn’t go right. And, unfortunately for them, this is what is happening at the beginning of the season. They do not have the best car ever, however they also had a good deal of bad luck. A team of their strength however has the ability to return to the top quickly".
Will the fact that the asphalt of Sakhir, like that of Fiorano, was produced by Shell, which is your technical supplier, favor Ferrari?
"I think it’s the same asphalt used in Hockenheim and other circuits. Only after the race will we know if it fits our car or not".
It is a crowning Grand Prix for Bahrain. Apart from the numerous sheikhs, hosts and not, Saturday, April 3, 2004 also arrives Juan Carlos of Bourbon, King of Spain. The sovereign obviously goes to visit the Ferrari box and then meets Fernando Alonso, but it does not bring him too much luck, because the Renault driver makes a mistake during the qualifying session.
"Fault of the brakes".
The Spanish driver is justified at the end of the tests. Alongside Prince Andrew of England and Albert of Monaco, the monarch of Jordan, Abdullah II and Philip of Liechtenstein are also expected. Formula 1 in a desert circuit is very curious, but it is clear that it is also a sign of friendship and peace. Among the guests already arrived there is also one of the directors of the most famous science fiction films in the world, the American George Lucas. McLaren crisis: the hour of reckoning is coming with Kimi Raikkonen in the back row. They called it Paragon, in a pompous attempt to be identified as a benchmark by the competition.But McLaren’s new Technology Center (50 acres, over 900 employees, a space building divided into 18 sectors, including a state-of-the-art wind tunnel) also in the Woking area, south of London, inaugurated in August 2002, Doesn’t seem to have benefited the team of former mechanic Ron Dennis. Despite the huge cost faced (over 500.000.000 euros), for two years the McLaren sank slowly, sliding to the center of the standings. It is therefore no longer a reference point. After tearing off the so-called designer wizard, Adrian Newey, at Williams and holding him back when he wanted to go to Jaguar, the British team went into a negative spiral. A single victory in 2002, two in 2003. If Kimi Raikkonen fights until the last race for the drivers' title with Michael Schumacher, it is only due to the new regulation that rewards placements and regularity, rather than successes. Technically, a disaster of enormous proportions. In 2003, the MP4/18, presented as a revolutionary car, never ran. David Coulthard and Kimi Raikkonen have to settle for different versions of the old MP4/17. To make up for this, McLaren prepared the MP4/19 in advance. At the debut in the first tests, it was discovered that the cockpit was too narrow and was redesigned. Then comes the reliability problems, widely confirmed at the beginning of the World Championship.The Finn retired in both Australia and Malaysia due to engine problems, while David Coulthard, using the accelerator with half a foot gets an eighth and a sixth place. In Bahrain, Friday, April 2, 2004 the engine broke on Kimi Raikkonen’s single-seater, while David Coulthard remains involved in an exit with punctured rubber and various damages. Saturday 3 April 2004, in the morning, still an excursion in the sand for the Scotsman because of the brakes and suspensions to change. In the afternoon in qualifying Kimi Raikkonen renounced his participation, after seeing that his team-mate is in tenth position.
"Since, having changed the engine on Thursday, I would have been relegated by ten places, between starting sixteenth or eighteenth I preferred to keep the car and shoot behind everyone in the race".
A bitter decision. It may be possible that things will get better in the race, but McLaren has a heavy climate. The British team and the Mercedes that supplies the engines are on the verge of breaking. Surely some heads will jump. Ron Dennis, who would be moved to less operational positions, risks the same, but Norbert Haug, Head of Mercedes' sports activities, could also have some problems. An embarrassing situation for a team that in the past has won eleven World Drivers' Championships and Constructors' World Championships. Also because Williams-Bmw is fighting at the top and remains the main contender of Ferrari. And this in Stuttgart, home of Mercedes, likes little. In the morning of Sunday, April 4, 2004 the circuit is wet from a light rain, extremely rare event in Bahrain; the lowering of temperatures favors the teams equipped with Bridgestone tires, less effective than the rivals Michelin with high temperatures. In the afternoon the weather improves and the race takes place with the track completely dry. At the start Michael Schumacher sprinted well from pole position, keeping the lead of the group ahead of Rubens Barrichello and Juan Pablo Montoya. Takuma Sato is fourth, followed by Ralf Schumacher, Jarno Trulli and Jenson Button. Fernando Alonso is forced to return to the pits after having damaged the nose in a contact with Christian Klien, while Kimi Räikkönen tries to recover from the back of the group, blocking himself behind Felipe Massa.The two Scuderia Ferrari drivers quickly gained a good margin over their rivals, while Ralf Schumacher contended for fourth place in Takuma Sato. The German driver tries an attack on the outside during the sixth lap, but Sato resists the attempt of the opponent remaining on the internal trajectory. Ralf Schumacher closed the trajectory too much and the two came into contact, with the Williams driver forced to pit to repair his car. A passage later on the car of Kimi Räikkönen gave up the Mercedes engine, forcing the Finnish driver to the third withdrawal in three races.At the end of the first supply run, opened by Michael Schumacher during the ninth lap, the German driver continues to lead ahead of Rubens Barrichello, Juan Pablo Montoya, Jarno Trulli, Takuma Sato, Jenson Button and David Coulthard.
During the seventeenth lap the Japanese driver of the BAR arrives long enough to a braking, ruining the front wing, and is therefore forced to return to the pits to replace the nose, losing several positions. In the lead of the race the two Ferraris maintain an unsustainable pace for the pursuers, who are increasingly spaced; the second series of pit stops, started during the twenty-third lap by David Coulthard, does not bring changes in the first positions, with the exception of Takuma Sato, who dates back to seventh place behind David Coulthard. After an uphill start to the race, Fernando Alonso entered the points during lap 30, when he passed Mark Webber, up to that point eighth. Two laps later Takuma Sato overtook David Coulthard, taking the sixth position. No other noteworthy changes followed until the third series of stops, during which Jenson Button overtook Jarno Trulli, taking fourth place, while Fernando Alonso gained seventh place against David Coulthard. On lap 44, Zsolt Baumgartner was forced to retire due to engine failure. About ten laps from the end, while the two Ferrari drivers managed without problems the advantage over rivals, Juan Pablo Montoya began to slow down for problems with the gearbox.The Colombian driver was overtaken by Jenson Button during lap 49, losing more and more ground. On lap 50, David Coulthard retired due to engine problems. Thanks to the withdrawal of the Scottish driver and the slowdown of Juan Pablo Montoya, Takuma Sato leads to the fifth place, chased by Fernando Alonso, while Ralf Schumacher and Mark Webber enter the points. No further events followed and Michael Schumacher crossed the finish line ahead of Rubens Barrichello, Jenson Button, Jarno Trulli, Takuma Sato, Fernando Alonso, Ralf Schumacher and Mark Webber. Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello, who stops them anymore? Two triumphant Ferraris christened the new circuit of Bahrain. Silence returns to the desert. Michael Schumacher wins before King Hamad of Bahrain, King Abdullah II of Jordan, King Juan Carlos of Spain, before princes and prime ministers. Present 40.000 spectators for the debut of Formula 1 in the Middle East: this is the goal of the organizers, reached at the cost of giving away tickets and giving away a Ferrari 360 Modena, offered by Sheikh Saiman, son of King Hamad and drawn by Michael Schumacher. Then sport wins. The great fear of terrorism has passed. The sand contributes to the spectacle: it forces the drivers to double the concentration, punishes those who make wrong trajectories, but does no damage.
"It was hard, but we had fun".
Challenging circuit designed by Hermann Tilke. Since Friday, April 2, 2004, in the escape routes pass all ingloriously, including Schumacher (he only in free practice). And you overtake, that is an extraordinary event. The various Takuma Sato, Fernando Alonso, Ralf Schumacher and Jenson Button position if they gain with strength, technique and bullying. Too bad that the local television director missed some highlights, such as Rubens Barrichello and Jarno Trulli who risk colliding in the pits or Ralf Schumacher who runs over a mechanic (without serious consequences) and that the chronometric measurements have disappeared on the small screen.Some people attribute a miracle to Scuderia Ferrari: making it rain in the desert. Around here it happens on average five times a year. It happens Sunday, April 4, 2004, a day that the strange conjunctions of numbers will help to remember: 04.04.04. Scuderia Ferrari made a good profit: in 2003 it suffered the temperatures of a record summer, in 2004 it found in Malaysia and Bahrain the coolest Sundays it could hope for. That said, it should be noted that Michael Schumacher won his three pole positions on Saturday, April 3, 2004 with torrid weather. Even the impact with Islamic culture works. From the sealed champagne bottles comes the sweet, fragrant and non-alcoholic foam of the Word, a mixture of local fruits, rose water and carbon dioxide that no one will miss upon returning to the West. On the pit lane, sober girls in stewardess clothing (hat, blue jacket, white shirt, knee-length skirt) respect the ritual of Formula 1 and the Islamic religion. In the previous days, another sponsor tries to present girls wrapped in red leather overalls that are quickly removed from the paddock. In the space of about twenty days the Circus sets up its tents again in Europe: first Imola, then Barcelona, Monte-Carlo and Nurburgring. The debut race at the Sakhir circuit reaffirms an embarrassing supremacy (for opponents): Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello, two gems in the desert. Ferrari doubles as in Melbourne. Jenson Button still on the podium. Michael Schumacher’s victory was in danger only once: at the first corner. The German rider arrives at the braking with the wheels blocked that raise blue smoke. Rubens Barrichello is on the same trajectory, he can’t do anything but line up and brake with identical energy. They travel about 800 meters. From that moment until the checkered flag, 308,769 kilometers, behind the two Ferraris the desert forms.Michael Schumacher wins the first Grand Prix in the history of Bahrain and the Middle East; he gets the third success of the season in as many races; humiliates opponents with the second hat trick, an expression that indicates pole position, fastest lap and victory and that in his career he has managed already 16 times; leads to 73 personal successes (his colleagues all together are stopped at 33) and to 17 braces paired with Rubens Barrichello. For Scuderia Ferrari, the braces go up to 63, the victories to 179 out of 689 Grands Prix held. Even the imperturbable Ross Brawn is impressed.
"We were worried. We started with a prudent approach and we did not expect this superiority".
comments the technical director of Ferrari. And in Italian, he concludes by saying:
"It’s not bad".
After the initial problem, Michael Schumacher greets and leaves. After a couple of seconds the teammate resists him, who loses contact at the first pit stop, the only mistake of the team on an otherwise perfect day. The Brazilian driver is given the green light when the car is still on the jack and then while on the pit lane is passing Jarno Trulli. A carelessness that costs € 8.000 fine to Ferrari (absolved of all responsibility from the driver). Rubens Barrichello’s race is also quiet. Juan Pablo Montoya is the only one who could annoy him on a serene Sunday. However, he gradually loses ground. Kimi Raikkonen gives a show with a nice comeback and, above all, with the pyrotechnic explosion of the Mercedes engine after about ten laps. The young Finn has not yet managed to finish a race. He starts well, then always stops between smoke and flames. Other duels enliven the show. Between Fernando Alonso (Renault) and Mark Webber (Jaguar) for example. The Australian closes the rival at the start and puts himself in front of him mid-race. Alonso presses him, curses him with large gestures and at the end - 30th lap - he passes him, but it is above all with himself that he must take it if he has done little so far: the mistakes in qualifying weigh and he has already committed two too many. He’s better in the race.
To prevail on Felipe Massa, he pulls out an extraordinary performance, because Sauber is very fast on the straight and in the mixed section spaces and trajectories are required.It’s a hand-to-hand fight between Takuma Sato and Ralf Schumacher. The German driver tries a violent attack and concludes it by tightening the trajectory beyond common sense: physics is not an opinion and the wheels of the two cars collide. Ralf Schumacher, who has to make an extra stop, gets a warning and, not happy, does the encore with Giancarlo Fisichella (during the thirty-second lap): overtaking and rotated, the Sauber of the Roman driver ends in spin. At the end of the year, in addition to Juan Pablo Montoya who will switch to McLaren, Williams-Bmw will probably also lose Ralf Schumacher, destination Toyota. It seems Sir Frank Williams didn’t do much to restrain him. Still Takuma Sato (BAR) protagonist on the thirty-second lap: he performs on David Coulthard the same maneuver that Ralf Schumacher tried with him (the difference is that he leaves the rival a sufficient space): he is rewarded by a fifth place. Jenson Button’s race is less spectacular, yet it brings the Englishman the second podium in a row. The BAR-Honda is the most pleasant surprise of the season and its first driver, 24, is no longer the umpteenth missed promise of Formula 1.Third in Malaysia, third in Sakhir, third in the overall standings ahead of Juan Pablo Montoya and behind the unstoppable Ferrari drivers: if then the opportunity happened, the first victory of his career would also deserve it. Closed in Bahrain the first part of the World Championship, Formula 1 returns to Europe, where Sunday, April 25, 2004, in Imola, will be held the San Marino Grand Prix. It’s not just a geographical shift: teams have three weeks to solve problems and test new solutions near each other. Moreover, they are well aware of the circuits where most of the upcoming Grands Prix will be held (in Australia and Malaysia Formula 1 goes only once a year, in Bahrain it is the absolute debut). In the following days Ferrari will work in Barcelona.Test driver Luca Badoer will take to the track first, then Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello will run together. The Japanese Takuma Sato with a fifth place makes the BAR-Honda the third force in the world. Great rivals collapse: Montoya’s Williams, second in Malaysia, finished thirteenth and rounded. More and more down McLaren: engine in smoke for Raikkonen, then surrenders Coulthard. Drops of rain and sand on track but overtaking in the group is not missed.
At the foot of the podium is Jarno Trulli, fourth with Renault. The F2004 is proving to be a perfect car: never a problem since the beginning of the season and absolute supremacy both in qualifying and race. But it is a rather eventful post race, that of the first Bahrain Grand Prix. In fact, the sports judges are called, who are mobilized to decide on a couple of controversial episodes; one also concerns Rubens Barrichello, victim of a tormented return at the end of the first pit stop. At the end of the race, after a long meeting, the FIA commissioners imposed a fine of about € 8,000 on Ferrari and a written warning to Ralf Schumacher. Scuderia Ferrari was punished for the risk of a collision between Rubens Barrichello and Jarno Trulli. The facts: the Brazilian driver stops to change tires and refuel. There is a hitch in mounting a rear wheel on the single-seater, a few moments of tension and then Rubens Barrichello starts again, but just while arriving for his stop the Renault of the Italian driver.Barrichello is not warned in time of the danger, he brakes to not exceed the allowed limits (which are now 100 km/h), the two cars are flanked in the pit lane and for a moment you think of an inevitable collision. The two drivers (as they then explain with a clear mind) widen the trajectory and, thanks to the readiness of the two reflexes, the cars only touch. The Brazilian driver is blameless, the jury blames the Scuderia Ferrari mechanics, who will pay the fine. As for the warning to Ralf Schumacher, it is due to the fact that the German driver hits the BAR of Takuma Sato when the latter tries to overcome it. In fact, the commissioners on this occasion are lenient with Ralf Schumacher, because the Williams driver also hits the Sauber of Giancarlo Fisichella, sending it in a spin. What are the secrets of the success of the Maranello team? Organization, work, the choice of ideal men and drivers. Never before has there been such a departure for Ferrari. From Agnelli and Montezemolo praise has come to Jean Todt and the whole team.Luca Montezemolo beats Umberto Agnelli in speed. The President of Ferrari is the first to phone the team principal, Jean Todt, to congratulate him, preceding the president of Fiat for a moment. This is what the director of the Maranello Sports Management says, smiling happy, obviously for the result.
"Montezemolo won the race, but they were both very happy. For us and for the Fiat Group of which we are part. We must never forget these links, both for the help they give us with the Research Centre and with Magneti Marelli, and because we represent them on the track. Ferrari is measured by the giants of motoring and has given a very important demonstration: these are not only the successes of a mythical but small factory, they are the expression of an Italian Group worldwide".
In fact, Ferrari, in recent decades, has never started so well: in three races he won 51 points out of 54 available for the first two positions. For Schumacher it is also a respectable start, since he drives single-seater cars: he won the first three races in 2000, but at that time he won only 27 points; he gets three consecutive pole positions at the beginning of the season in 2001, However, he did not manage to score the best time in qualifying at the time. Not even in the fabulous 2002 gets such a brilliant balance. Some say that Grands Prix at this point would be more uncertain and spectacular if there were not a driver like Michael Schumacher.Forgetting that the absence of the German driver would have favored the possible victories of Rubens Barrichello or some other driver with a minimum of value that had had a F2004 available. At the moment Ferrari dictates the law, with all its package: drivers, team, tires, chassis, engine, electronics. It should be noted that it does so despite the fact that new regulations have been invented to try to stop the race of the Maranello team. There are no secrets to this unstoppable series of statements that began in 1999 (but could very well have started in 1997, if there were no negative circumstances). It is about organization (and this is one of the great merits of Jean Todt), choice of people, determination and perseverance. All of course accompanied by exceptional technical skills, because - it is worth repeating it -the competition is not formed by English assemblers as happened in the distant past, but by powerful companies with large means. At the end of last season, after yet another double success of Ferrari, it was thought that in 2004 it would be very hard to win again.
During the winter a new McLaren arrived ahead of schedule, Williams presented its amazing project, it is said that Renault is in strong progression. In truth, only the French House (which at the moment is second in the championship) keeps its promises. McLaren, after an already disastrous start, reaches the bottom. Kimi Raikkonen (who has to change the broken engine on Friday, April 2, 2004) does not travel more than 40 kilometers before stopping again with the car that spits oil between flames and thick steaming. David Coulthard does not finish the race, blocked by a loss of pressure of the pneumatic valves (always the engine). Williams suffers the whims of Ralf Schumacher and the misfortune of Juan Pablo Montoya, who due to a plumbing failure destroys the gearbox. However, the Colombian, even if he had finished the race in top form, would have finished third, about half a minute from the two Ferraris. There is to report the growth of the BAR, which is confirmed in third place with Jenson Button.At the moment the team that enjoys the support of Honda is not yet ready to win, but it could make other steps forward. The problem for everyone is that even Ferrari will not stop. Being the strongest, it will probably have less room for improvement, but it certainly will not stand by. In three races the Ferrari have won 51 of the 54 points available. After five years of success it seemed impossible to grow again, but the miracle continues, with the fans celebrating in large numbers in the stands of Bahrain. However, Scuderia Ferrari team principal Jean Todt said:
"We are not phenomena, it is teamwork that pays off".
Nineteen drivers don’t make a Michael Schumacher. The German driver is the only active World Champion and the only one who has passed the thousand points (1068 against 455 David Coulthard and 358 Rubens Barrichello). He has spent more than 19,000 kilometers of his career at the wheel of Benetton and Ferrari (4200 Coulthard, 2900 Barichello), he won more than all the others put together in the thirteen seasons and begins to dominate the fourteenth. He left the leftovers to his rivals, and continues to leave them: in this start to the season only the fastest lap in Malaysia, the circuit that promises to be the most difficult, fails. Never had he started a season on these rhythms.
"Thanks to all".
He hurries to explain the German pilot. But the German newspapers, Bild first, adore him:
"He is the only German who can win, while all of Germany relents".
In any case, the F2004 does what Schumacher wants. It immediately reaches the limit, it adapts to every track, it is easy to adjust and trim. The tires, joys and pains of the past season, have been so far impeccable. And the German driver, a magnificent 35-year-old, shines with a state of extraordinary shape that he cultivates with maniacal constancy, he earns as much as a sheikh and in the villa-ranch in Switzerland he enjoys his family, his wife Corinna and his sons Gina Maria and Mick. Jean Todt is impressed by his top driver (and at the foot of the stage sends him a kiss), by Rubens Barrichello, excellent wingman also in the last race (Schumacher is the best, he is the best second, suggests a great past as Stirling Moss)and the whole team, technical suppliers, etc.
"We thought that the conditions of this new track were not favorable to Ferrari. Instead the car behaved very well and Bridgestone provided us with exceptional tires, as it does from the beginning of the season. The tires were a critical sector in 2003. I see that the problem has been solved brilliantly: it is also thanks to our partners that we have won 51 of the 54 points".
If you ask Jean Todt what is the secret of such technical superiority, the answer is always one: the approach with work and a team composed of exceptional people.
"We are not phenomena, we remain humble and down to earth".
The Bahrain Grand Prix (which glued 13.000.000 Italians to television, with a share of 59%) was unknown. What difficulties did Ferrari have to overcome to present itself at its best?
"Difficulties? Perhaps this question should be addressed to others. All weekend we made only one mistake during a pit stop, and no consequences. We went immediately well on Friday, on Saturday morning we put the two cars in place, in the afternoon we conquered an all red front row and on Sunday we scored a brace. Difficult to talk about difficulties".
Ferrari promotes the circuit, fantastic and exaggerated cathedral in the desert of Bahrain that will probably remain closed until next year’s Grand Prix.
"The sheiks have won their challenge. It was not easy to put everything in place so well. Hats off, they now have the most modern circuit in the world. At least until September".
This is because the third last Grand Prix of the season will be held in Shanghai: China, in fact, is the second newcomer nation of the season. The project is by the same engineer, the Austrian Hermann Tilke, and will be ready within the next two months. A couple of minor controversies broke out on the Sakhir circuit. It was not pleasant that Williams sent its test driver Marc Gene to inaugurate the track with an old single-seater, which however served to collect important data. And Ferrari’s opponents didn’t like the fact that the bitumen for the asphalt was made by a partner from Maranello.
"Even in Hockenheim bitumen was made by the same company, and I do not think that last year we went well".
Case closed. Scuderia Ferrari returns to Europe and gets back to work. The challenge to the Maranello team becomes every day more and more an impossible mission for the competition. And not only for the results of Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello and the contemporary crisis of giants such as McLaren-Mercedes and BMW-Williams.
The fact is that new realities have arisen that have become part of the struggle between German car manufacturers. After three races, behind the Scuderia Ferrari, Renault is second in the standings and Bar-Honda is third on a par with Williams. Among the drivers, Jenson Button (15 points) is the closest pursuer of the pair of the Maranello team, while Fernando Alonso and Jarno Trulli are fifth to one length from Juan Pablo Montoya.For the moment there has been a reshuffling of the cards that could also favor the Scuderia Ferrari, with rivals taking off precious points between them. In the dispute, Formula 1 has also found a new reason of interest with the comparison between two big names of Japanese motoring, that is, between the mighty Toyota and Honda which has much smaller industrial and economic dimensions. Honda has outclassed Toyota so far. It must be said that the first, smaller, boasts a superior tradition: not only did it compete with a team from 1964 to 1968, but it also allowed three drivers to win five World Championships (Piquet One, Senna Three, Prost One) providing engines to Williams and McLaren. Toyota, which in the past has achieved success in American races and in some endurance races, instead debuted in Formula 1 only in 2002. Honda has always had a soft approach with Formula 1. Even now, which is linked to Bar since 2000 (also a supplier of Jordan from 1998 to 2002) has not yet made it known if it will continue. The contract will expire in June. According to rumors he could also leave, but the current results suggest a different solution: renew the contract for a few years, or as he hopes David Richards, manager of the English team, buy the team and continue with your name. One thing is certain: while Toyota, based in Cologne, has over 600 employees of 32 different nationalities and has almost unlimited means, Honda uses only Japanese technicians and tries not to overspend. From this season, however, it is not limited to providing engines, but supports the designers of the Bar team in the study of chassis, aerodynamics and gearbox. Result: after three races Toyota is 0 points, on a par with Jordan and Minardi, while Honda is fourth, at the same level (19 points) of Bmw-Williams. While Jenson Button is in third place in the standings reserved for drivers. Cristiano Da Matta and Olivier Panis are in twelfth and thirteenth place and with no results.The team of Cologne has made some small progress but there is disappointment and there is already thought of possible changes, starting with the two drivers. And that’s despite the fact that the executives talked about a five-year plan to get to the top. Bar-Honda is already at the top. He also owes it to the designer Geoff Willis, a Williams defector, who is engaged to the Roman noblewoman Francesca d'Aragona. Geoff Willis is optimistic:
"I have to be by trade. To give confidence to the team. However we have a very competitive car. The engine is more powerful, the dimensions of the car are more contained, we lowered the center of gravity and reduced weights. The development plan is remarkable: a V10 with a few spare horses, aerodynamic solutions, new suspensions and ball bearings. Everything will come for the Imola race".
And to those who ask him for a prediction, he answers:
"Ferrari is very strong now. But after two third places for Button, we are aiming for a second or maybe even a victory".
Optimistic? At Toyota they look at him badly.
The revelation driver is Jenson Button. Many insiders rely on Kimi Raikkonen and Fernando Alonso. Meanwhile, however, the British driver emerged with two consecutive podiums, in Sepang and Sakhir, in the jungle and in the desert.
"The second was more beautiful than the first. Why? Because it is already the second".
Jenson Button overtook his teammate Takuma Sato in the race.
"I wasn’t going to force it. He made a mistake and I took advantage of it. Then we didn’t do anything wrong. The car was perfect and the strategy was perfect".
What’s missing for success?
"It is the first year we have fitted Michelin tyres. Give us time to gain experience. At Imola we will introduce a series of new products. We will see".
Surprisingly, among the drivers in third place after Schumacher and Barrichello comes Jenson Button; among the manufacturers, behind Ferrari advances Renault. Let those who in winter had predicted, in order, the disappearance of McLaren among the top teams, the difficulties of Williams-Bmw, and the transformation of the BAR-Honda from a single-seater company to a new protagonist. The predictions were different. The second disappointment is the Williams-Bmw. His snout immediately compared to the teeth of the walrus fascinated in a panorama of cars all the same. It should also be added that the design of the car is the work of a woman, Italian, Antonia Terzi, who once worked at Ferrari, and the prediction is inevitable: the time of Ferrari has passed.The Renaults come up with fewer proclamations. Young team that grows, competitive drivers, a more powerful engine, the goal to enter the top three at the expense of McLaren or Williams. The result is surpassed; they are second mainly thanks to reliability. Like Ferrari, the French team has always led both drivers to points.
"I’m happy, but the morale would have needed a podium".
Says Jarno Trulli, fourth and protagonist of a positive weekend. He misses the treble.
"I had bad luck in all three pit stops. On the way back to the track, I was twice slowed down by the Jordans and once by Michael Schumacher. I didn’t reproach him; he was coming out of the pit lane and I had to give him the road in the corner because he was ahead of me. Unfortunately, those four or five seconds were decisive".
Juan Pablo Montoya is a strange pilot. Sometimes, when it goes wrong, he becomes furious. Sunday, April 4, 2004, after the race in which the forty-eighth of fifty-seven laps fell from third to thirteenth place, the Colombian laughed as if he had seen a comedy film.
"What do you want to do, should I jump into a river? I try to be cheerful, it’s good for my head. Unfortunately, I had a problem with the gearbox. First the seventh gear was skipped, then the fifth, finally the sixth. I was traveling on the fourth. From the pits, via radio, they told me to resist. Impossible. I stopped at the track right after crossing the finish line. I was told that the plumbing had blown. Anyway, I wasn’t fast enough and Ferrari at this time was too strong. Only consolation; we were the best with Michelin tyres. This is quite important".
Montoya also admits that he made mistakes over the weekend.
"I probably didn’t make the best choice on the tires. Breakdowns aside, I should have started in a more advanced position, although I don’t complain about my start. The result is very heavy because I did not take a point and I am very sorry".
Ralf Schumacher, officially cautioned by the sports stewards for the incident with Sato, takes the story with philosophy, carefully avoiding taking responsibility.
"It was a normal race collision. I had passed the Japanese and he tried again to overtake me, where the track was too narrow for the two cars side by side. From my point of view, Takuma was very optimistic to try that maneuver. If we look at everything that has happened, I could define my seventh place finish as a damage control result. At the end of the show I’m not depressed. Looking at the data, I got the third lap time, not far from Ferrari’s. This survey leaves the door open to some hope for the future".
The future seems less rosy for McLaren, branded in the race by a double retirement. As if that were not enough, to underline the difficult moment, even the mechanics of the Anglo-German team, Saturday, April 3, 2004 remain stranded for the failure of the engine on the bus with which they tried to return to the hotel in Manama. Kimi Raikkonen is literally destroyed. Already the Finnish driver always speaks with a thread of voice, so much so that it is difficult to hear him. After the race, interrupting a very long silence, he says:
"A difficult weekend for me and for the whole team. In the race I also started well from the last row and gained several positions. I was fighting with a Jaguar for eleventh place when the engine suddenly lost all power, obviously due to the breakup. There is nothing more to say. I just want to forget this trip and look at the races that are missing to finish the championship".
Total dissatisfaction also on the face of David Coulthard:
"After two bad days, I could at least save a running dot. No. However, I also hope that the situation changes soon".
Ron Dennis, the owner of McLaren, agrees on this point:
"It has gone so badly, so far, that we can only improve. I remain confident». Already it is said that the team is preparing another completely different car for the month of June. But even this is not a good sign".
Enthusiasm in Maranello: to exult among the people living in the small province of Modena there is a special guest, Hamad Ahmad Aziz Al-Amer, ambassador for Europe of Bahrain. The diplomat follows the race with the fans in the auditorium Enzo Ferrari, in the company of three children and the mayor of Maranello, Giancarlo Bertacchini.
"I thank everyone for the beautiful hospitality. Next year we will be happy to reciprocate, hosting a delegation from Maranello in our country. I hope that this town will keep the name of Ferrari high all over the world".
In the morning the diplomat had visited the Ferrari Gallery, and had tried a 355 Gts. As always on the occasion of the victories, enthusiasm explodes in Maranello, with the festive sound of the church bells and the carousels in the streets. In addition, a safe driving event takes place.